The Saturday in F1 Belgian GP saw wet to dry weather conditions which did not shake up the grid on the whole but provided a thrilling end.
The FP1 was a washout due to rain which forced the teams and drivers to make it into F1 Belgian GP qualifying with a blind idea. It wasn’t raining in qualifying but the track was dry to start off and only midway in Q2, the slick tyres were deployed.
It was still last one to the chequered flag seen in drying conditions. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took pole by miles but it wasn’t easy in Q2 when he almost lost out due to miss judgement. He qualified just after couple of them couldn’t improve.
It led to a heated discussion on the radio but he apologised later on. His teammate Sergio Perez finally broke the ice of Top 3 in third but Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc stamped his qualifying authority ending up second with a fine lap from his side.
He will start Sunday’s F1 race from pole due to the gearbox penalty to Verstappen, but Leclerc is not too confident of winning the race with the two Red Bull cars behind him. Teammate Carlos Sainz was fine with his qualifying run even though he expected more.
On Mercedes side, Lewis Hamilton rose up well to finish ahead of McLaren which was a happy result for him and closer to podium. His teammate George Russell wasn’t happy throughout the qualifying finishing only eighth behind the McLaren pair who were 50-50.
Verstappen: “To be honest, I mean I crossed the line and… It’s quite hectic out there, you know, it’s still only one dry line in some places, you’re still not even doing the full dry line. So, yeah, it felt alright. But honestly, I mean, I didn’t know where I was until I looked on the screens. But yeah, Q3, that final lap, I think was very good. I just risked a bit more compared to all the other laps, you know, leaving a level of margin, which almost knocked me out in Q2. So yeah, it was tough out there today to get to get everything right. I had issues, mainly Turn 8/9, because I think I was incredibly slow there before, because I had a few moments. I almost crashed in 9 in Q2. So even in Q3 on my first run I was very slow there. So then on my second attempt I just went a lot faster. As for Q2, it was close, but again, I had to abort my first lap, because I went wide over the white line In Turn 9, I think, or 8, so I had to abort that lap. Then I did another slow lap. And it just felt like I probably lost a little bit too much temperature in the tyres. And then because of that mistake, I made in 9 or 8, I don’t remember the corner, I just took a lot of margin there and it was way too much. And yeah, with the track ramping up that quickly, yeah, it was very, very close. For the radio call, I mean, that happens sometimes. Most of it is normally or always blocked off. But I think we are both… We can be quite vocal or emotional. But we always solve it afterwards. It’s all good.”
Leclerc: “Happier, for sure. I mean, I put quite a lot of work in those conditions, half-wet, half-dry. I knew it was one of those conditions where I was still struggling with a car. I didn’t have the right feeling in Barcelona, in… I cannot remember the other races we had, but we had two or three races in a row where we had those conditions. And today, I felt much better in the car, so this was positive. I am still very far from Max in Q3 especially. But yeah, all in all, I think in Q3 we could have done things slightly better. I don’t think pole was possible. I mean, I’m sure pole was not possible today. But we probably could have been closer going a bit later in Q3. For the race, not confident, especially with the two Red Bull guys right behind. I think they’ve got a much better race car than we have. I mean, it’s great to be starting first and I think it gives us a good chance to have a great result. But to say that we’ll target the win, I think it’s probably a bit too optimistic. If there’s an opportunity, for whatever reason, as always, I’ll try and take it, but I believe it’s going to be difficult to keep those guys behind.”
Perez: “I think in these conditions, it’s so easy for it to go wrong. We already saw in Q1, if you’re on the wrong side of it, with the tyres too warm on the final lap, or so on, it can be very, very tight. Even in Q2, I had the wrong engine deployment, because I did consecutive laps, and that just puts you really, really close to the limit, you know. So it’s just one of those sessions that is so tricky to find the limit, and you have to go with the track. Already, I think every single Qualifying session was quite tricky today. For the race, I will try my best. I will try to get Charles at the start, which is always hard, but I think it’s also a long race, high deg. So anything can happen on Sunday, but we certainly have a good position.”
Norris: “I’m pretty happy actually. I think my laps were pretty reasonable, I just had a lot of damage after Q1, so it was a bit more of a struggle probably than some of the others. But to get into Q3 was already a good job by us, with the damage we had. My Q3 lap was decent, but not a lot more I think I could have done. Too early to tell. We’re definitely not as quick… We’re a long way off where we were in the last few races. Our straight-line speed is pretty poor, but Oscar did a good… His middle sector is only two-tenths off Verstappen, who’s six-tenths quicker than everyone else in the middle sector. I think there are some positive signs, hopefully that turns into better race pace, but I think we would have been definitely more up there if I didn’t go off in Q1.”
Hamilton: “I’m happy with today’s result. It was a hectic session as it was consistently drying up. It was very slippery at the beginning and visibility was a challenge. You know that every lap you are going to be improving as it dries up, so you need to maximise it. That’s why we were waiting at the end of the pitlane each session and the Team did a great job of getting us out there and finding clear track. I kept my head down and focused on maximising as much as I could. At the end, we were a good chunk off Max and his lap was pretty impressive. We’re pleased with where we are starting though. I’ll now have Max behind me on Sunday, but the aim is definitely to fight for a podium and chase down the guys ahead. No one got any real running in FP1 so I’m hoping that we have decent long run pace. Setting the car up ahead of qualifying was a bit of a guessing game. The car felt pretty decent, but we lost a lot of time in the middle sector. We’ll go away, study it, and see where there is time to be found. We will work on making any improvements we can, and we’ll be giving it everything we’ve got for the rest of the weekend. So far though, it’s a good start.”
The Top 10 also had the Aston Martin pair but they only managed ninth and 10th. Even with the conditions, Fernando Alonso thought seventh was the maximum result he could have achieved and hopes they can recover some tenths for Sunday.
It wasn’t the time for both Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen as both crashed in the same corner at separate occasions in Q2. The Frenchman had front wing damage and an operational error cost him time which meant he couldn’t do another lap.
His teammate Pierre Gasly too felt he did not have enough legs, as Haas’ Magnussen did manage to continue on despite the hit but the damage was enough to cost him time. He also impeded Leclerc for which he was handed a grid penalty.
His teammate Nico Hulkenberg had hydraulic issue which left him with only one run. The Williams pair, meanwhile, were left disappointed for not making it out of Q1 despite the pace, while Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas reckoned Q2 was maximum.
Alonso: “Qualifying was stressful. Every lap was a new game – you had to adapt all the time to the changing levels of grip. You had to trust the car – we were taking corners faster and faster each lap, so it was a little bit of a guessing game. We progressed through Q1 and Q2, which was one of our main targets. Q3 was extremely tight – we ended up a few tenths off seventh place, which was probably the maximum we could have achieved today. I think the AMR23 was behaving well today: we’re still missing those final couple of tenths to our main competitors – particularly over a flying lap – but hopefully we can recover some of that pace on Sunday.”
Ocon: “It’s not been an easy day on track today and I’m disappointed not to get into Q3. The weather conditions made the session tricky for everyone and but we did a good job to get through to Q2. Unfortunately, I hit the wall at Turn 9, which damaged the car and we were not able to have a second push lap on Soft tyres when the track was at its best. Tomorrow, we have a chance to get points with the Sprint Race, so we’ll certainly target a good result. For Sunday, it’s going to be tough from fifteenth on the grid but we’ll give our all.”
Bottas: “It’s been quite tricky today: we got limited track time during the only free practice session due to the heavy rain; then, during qualifying, the grip felt different in every lap and in different sectors, so it was really important to read the conditions properly and make the right tyre choices. We were the first ones to put on the slicks at the end of Q2, but unfortunately the timing didn’t work out for us: we crossed the line first, while the track was drying up, and then everyone else subsequently improved. Of course, it has been disappointing, but as a positive we had decent pace, which gives us an encouragement ahead of tomorrow’s Shootout and Sprint Race.”
Albon: “It was a tough one today. I don’t think we have the downforce for this kind of weather and were just sliding a lot, which overheats the tyres quickly and makes finishing a lap without the tyres going off a struggle. It wasn’t our day today; we’d prefer it to be fully wet or fully dry, as these mixed conditions make it tricky for us. We know our issues, it’s just not obvious how to fix them. We should be okay if the conditions are dry or fully wet but today was tricky and I normally like these conditions.”
Magnussen: “I went off at Turn 9 and hit the wall, damaging the car and then I completed my fastest lap after that, but I had a fair bit of damage on the car. I feel like there was maybe some more in it, but I think everyone feels like that in those conditions, there’s always something you leave out there in terms of lap time. P13 for Sunday, I think that’s okay and we’ll take it from there. Rainy conditions are where you can make it or break it, there’s everything to play for and that’s what we like. It could very well be similar conditions tomorrow for the Sprint, the weather here in Spa is always interesting, so let’s see what happens.”
Ricciardo: “It’s frustrating to have my lap time deleted because of track limits at Turn 4. I tried to take Eau Rouge flat, I thought it was possible, but I was drifting off the good line and had to lift to try to stay on track, but it was just drifting. As soon as I got over the Turn 4 kerb, I knew I was probably over. I tried to put it behind me and keep going with the lap – you have an idea, but you never really know if you’re off, so I obviously kept pushing. I thought it was possible, but it wasn’t quite yet. Our qualifying position hurts me for Sunday, but fortunately, we have another chance tomorrow. I don’t like making mistakes obviously, but there’s the big picture where we’re doing ok. I’ll put it behind me and learn from it because there’s a lot to be encouraged by.”
Here’s how F1 Belgian GP qualifying panned out